Preview

Vancouver 2010

No button mashing required

Why is it that pretty much every game featuring some sort of athletic endeavour such as running, jumping or chucking stuff has to include some sort of pad smashing control system that ends in repetitive strain injury and frustration? And they're never much cop anyway, so the general consensus amongst gamers often tends to be, 'what's the point?'

Eurocom, the developers on Vancouver 2010 must have been here before too - fingers throbbing painfully - so they've built their official game of the Winter Olympics with a distinct lack of brainless button mashing.

Vancouver 2010's Winter Olympics events are not only easier on the fingers and thumbs, they're selective too, so anyone expecting a spot of curling will be sorely disappointed; and what little there is features in perfectly logical instances, never outstaying its welcome.

Comprised of around 14 of the faster events, the game covers all of the Winter Olympics' main disciplines from downhill slalom, snowboard cross and ski jumping, to skeleton, luge and bobsleigh. What's more, each has been crafted with due care and a logical control mechanic tailored to each event.

So where bobsleigh involves tapping A to power your run up before pressing B to jump in, skeleton requires rhythmic button presses to build up speed. Then by shifting your weight with the triggers while steering as close to the high edges as you can, you'll accumulate extra speed and momentum. Go too far and your bobsleigh, luge or skeleton board will crash, disqualifying you from that particular run.

Successful medal-winning times in events actually require a modicum of actual skill rather than button mashing endurance with mastery of several different elements being essential to acquiring decent scores. During our recent hands-on with the near-finished game at Sega's UK HQ, we found each event to be decent, solid fun especially when playing against human rivals.

Pick of the bunch has to be the ski jump, which we found ourselves hopelessly addicted to with the majority of our hands-on time devoted to setting the furthest record distance we could, eventually reaching an unbeatable 318.9 metres (combined over two jumps). Ski jump is by far our favourite event, with the first-person view lending added authenticity to proceedings as you survey your surroundings, check the wind direction before pushing off down the slope.

Getting a jump just right means hitting the right mark on five different occasions, using two different gauges - one to adjust your position in relation to wind direction and another to adjust your launch angle. Then when you're airborne you need to adjust your balance with the back triggers as you hurtle through the air before pressing a face button to pull off a perfect landing at the very last second.

The events where executing several parts are helped by a marking system that gives you a score out of 100 as you progress, so you can keep tabs on how well you manage to take a corner on the bobsleigh or how good your launch is in the ski jump. You're always notified therefore if you fail to properly take a corner or line up the correct run, meaning you can jump into the pause menu and hit restart rather than having to waste time completing a doomed run before loading up and trying again. However, the lack of a 'try again' option at the end of a finished event seems like an oversight.

Slalom, snowboard cross and speed skating events present an altogether different challenge to the jumping and various sleigh-based disciplines, with an emphasis on deft control with the analogue stick and an occasional, timely application of the left trigger to pull off a sharp turn. 1,500-metre speed skating is particularly tough with the first-person view essential for hitting the correct rhythm. Switching to the alternate view (which is available for every event) brings up a Guitar Hero-style visual indicator that allows you to more accurately hit the right buttons at the right time to build up speed. First-person only really works for the 1,500-metre speed skate though and obviously the ski-jump, but we'd be reluctant to play the other disciplines through your athlete's eyes.

Elsewhere, added longevity comes in the all-new challenge mode, which consists of over 30 single and multiplayer challenges that should keep you well occupied during the cold winter months. Fundamentally though, Vancouver 2010 is looking refreshingly good for a game based upon the Winter Olympics. Even the visuals are highly accomplished for this kind of game.

Although Vancouver 2010 is filled with just snowy and ice-laden surfaces rendered in several shades of white and pale blue, they're suitably crisp and shiny. Above all else though, our extended hands-on has proven that there might just be some life yet in this most maligned of genres and that Vancouver 2010 may even manage to last beyond the time the Winter Games are on the telly.

Focusing the line-up of events by only catering towards the faster, more exciting stuff that actually translates well to a gaming medium means that there ought to be less weak patches in the Vancouver 2010. Addictive and fun mini-games with enough added depth to keep you playing until at least the next Winter Olympics in another four years time looks like it may just be the order of the day.

Vancouver 2010 won't be the most amazing sports title when it launches next week by any stretch of the imagination, but as a simple collection of bite size events to play with family and friends, Sega's Winter Olympics tie-in might just be worth a look.